While one concussion can be a problem, it can be much worse when someone receives a second concussion before the first one is fully healed. This is called second impact syndrome.
“While you have a concussion, your brain is really vulnerable to these second impact type of events,” Peterson said. “Those tend to be more severe injuries, they tend to last longer, symptoms tend to be worse, they are more likely to lead to long-term disability, and rarely, they kill people.”
Worry about a second impact syndrome is why athletes who are suspected to have a concussion are immediately removed from the field until a test can be done to determine if they are concussed. However, some concussions are overlooked. In some cases this can cause a problem.
“There’s probably some people that really end up worse off for having their concussion missed and there’s probably some people that do just fine, but we try to err on the side of making sure that everyone is as protected as they can be,” Peterson said.
Second impact syndrome can also occur when an athlete returns to their sports before they have completely recovered from their concussion. To prevent this, an athlete’s recovery process is carefully monitored and further tests are used before they are released back to their sport.
“We spend a lot of our energy on making sure that people really are fully healed before they go back to play,” Peterson said.